For Immediate Release: August 27, 2015

Federal Railroad Administration Should Halt Plan Allowing Railroads to Hide Evidence of Safety Lapses, AAJ Tells Agency

Agency Should Act in Interest of Public Safety
Contact:
Ben Somberg
Email:
ben.somberg@justice.org
Phone:
202-965-6645

Washington, DC—The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) should drop a proposal to give railroads legal cover to hide evidence of safety lapses in court, according to testimony presented at an agency hearing today by the American Association for Justice (AAJ).

"The government wouldn't allow an airline to hide evidence of safety lapses, and they shouldn't allow railroads to do it, either,” said Larry Tawwater, AAJ President. “Given recent events like the tragic train crash in Philadelphia, it is shameful the railroads would want to hide safety information. Railroads should fix their safety lapses, not try to cover them up."

The FRA is moving toward finalizing two separate rules requiring passenger and freight railroads to implement safety plans, but each of the rules, as proposed, would give railroads the ability to legally hide a wide range of evidence of safety problems that is often uncovered after a crash or incident. Such evidence is crucial for helping victims get the answers they want and need after a devastating crash, and it is one of the only ways to publicly uncover dangerous behavior by a railroad and force it to fix the specific safety problem. Railroads have often been caught trying to illegally hide evidence of safety lapses from being revealed in court; the FRA’s proposals would legalize the withholding of evidence, as long as the railroad claimed the evidence was part of their safety plan.

The FRA hired a law firm, Baker Botts, with a history of representing the railroad industry, to study whether to allow the hiding of such evidence. The study failed to examine the impact on the safety of the public and rail workers, yet declared giving the railroads the ability to hide evidence to be in the public interest. Other agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, have implemented similar safety plan regulations without giving the regulated industries the ability to hide evidence of safety problems.

Tom Jones, a founding member of the Davis, Bethune & Jones firm in Kansas City and a specialist in representing families who have been injured or killed in railroad collisions, presented the AAJ testimony today before an FRA public hearing in Washington on the freight railroad rule.

“It cannot be in the public’s best interest to allow railroads to keep unsafe practices shielded from public disclosure, and leave people who suffer serious injuries or death because of unreasonable hazards without justice,” Tom Jones said in his written testimony.

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The American Association for Justice works to preserve the constitutional right to trial by jury and to make sure people have a fair chance to receive justice through the legal system when they are injured by the negligence or misconduct of others—even when it means taking on the most powerful corporations. Visit http://www.justice.org